The Painful Birth of the Romantic Heroine: Stael as Political Animal, 1786-1818

By Isbell, John | The Romanic Review, January 1996 | Go to article overview

The Painful Birth of the Romantic Heroine: Stael as Political Animal, 1786-1818


Isbell, John, The Romanic Review


1. On a raison d'exclure les femmes des affaires politiques et civiles. Stael, 1810.

2. Depuis la Revolution, les hommes ont pense qu'il etait politiquement et moralement utile de reduire les femmes a la plus absurde mediocrite. Stael, 1800(1).

One author, two verdicts. What is going on? This paper argues that Stael chose art only when banned by men from politics, under Napoleon in particular. The "Romantic heroine" her life and works handed to posterity was a fallback position, used by a woman exiled from the Revolutionary stage. Stael's complete works make this clear, splitting into four periods.

1. Ancien Regime.

Born in 1766, Stael is writing short moral comedies by the age of twelve--Les Inconvenients de la vie de Paris. In 1786, she marries and turns twenty, and her output now slowly pushes the envelope of discourse expected by society of a very young salonniere: outlines of novels; portraits and eloges; synonymes, a remarkable Folle, and vers de circonstance published in Grimm's Correspondence for the royal courts of Europe. In 1786-7, she completes two plays, Sophie ou les sentiments secrets and Jane Grey, and prepares her Lettres sur Rousseau. This output may seem pre-political, but it is already breaking the hermetic seal of Versailles and of women's private art, moving toward Paris and the citizen's public arena. Jane Grey is only the first of Stael's five Voltairean political tragedies of 1787-97, including Montmorency, soon to be published at last, and the lost Jean de Witt. Domenech also has brilliantly shown how Stael uses Rousseau in 1788 as an homme de paille for Necker, giving her father free publicity on the eve of the Etats-generaux--a diversionary strategy she will repeat throughout her career. Stael's correspondence shows this same move toward politics, linked to her growing maturity, a change of mood in France, Necker's role as Premier Ministre and her own marriage to the Swedish ambassador; thus, her bulletins on French politics for the King of Sweden(2).

2. Revolution.

Stael's most familiar works in this decade again seem at first largely "female", or private and apolitical: Zulma and the Recueil de morceaux detaches,1794-5, and her treatise on the influence of the passions, 1796. But three facts destroy that first impression.

First, the politics in these fine and under-studied works. Mirza and Zulma from the Recueil are tragic heroines with a public voice; its Epitre au malheur and her book on the passions explicitly discuss the effects of the Terror, title of her lover Constant's later brochure. Stael adds that her volume's three nouvelles date from before 1786, but Mirza and Pauline already attack the slave trade, another constant of Stael's life up to her work with Wilberforce in 1814. Often, in Stael's case, full titles reveal our misleading shorthand: thus, De l'influence des passions sur le bonheur des individus et des nations.

Second, other published material: her 1790 Eloge of the strategist Guibert; her 1791 tract on public opinion; her three series of Reflexions, 1793-5, on the queen's trial, on peace--her first signed work, in 1794--and on domestic peace; and her 1798 treatise on how to establish the Republic. Again, these texts are little-studied. Like de Gaulle, Guibert had warned of mobile armies amid a caste who favoured fortifications; Stael's lover Narbonne faces that same resistance as Minister for War in 1791-2, before their views conquer Europe. Her 1791 tract on how to identify a national majority pinpoints the way extremists in Paris could hijack a Revolution once desired by the nation as a whole: a common theme two centuries later. Her thorough series of Reflexions appeal for common sense from the French government and people, and practical solutions to civil unrest--mud in the eye for those who dismiss her as irrational. And her 400-page tract on how to ground the Republic continues these themes, including the elements of a draft constitution. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Painful Birth of the Romantic Heroine: Stael as Political Animal, 1786-1818
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.